How i'm celebrating passover this year

by Della Heiman, our founder and CEO

Passover's central theme is the idea of freedom. It's a special time each year to contemplate and celebrate our own freedom, and to acknowledge our responsibilities to help those who are not yet free. This is a particularly interesting year to think about how much we have to be grateful for, even in our strange and unexpected current reality.

 

Della Heiman sits next to her grandfather, who is surrounded by his grandchildren at Passover.


My strongest association with Passover is my grandfather Paul, who we call "Opa."  Born in Munich in 1926, my Opa, along with his parents and sister,  narrowly escaped Germany during the Holocaust.  

Every Passover, my grandpa tells us what freedom means to him. He reminds us to be grateful for our most basic freedoms, especially the ability to grow up in a country that allows us to live in peace and safety.

In my family, we get very engaged in the seder, a word which literally means "order". The seder ritual is repeated every year by Jews around the world, in which we retell the story of the ancient Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt.

In our version, we gather four generations of family and friends together for a lively retracing of our story, complete with skits, jeopardy, and props to mimic the Ten Plagues. Our Passover meal incorporates many traditional and symbolic foods, including different types of charoset recipes from diverse Jewish communities around the world. Charoset is a fruit and nut mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Jewish slaves in Egypt. 

How this year's seder will be different

During the Passover seder, we ask four questions, beginning with: "Why is this night different from all other nights?"

This year, everything is very different from all other years for two reasons: 1) we're doing virtual seders while in COVID-19 quarantine and 2) we're celebrating the arrival of my brother and sister-in-law's son, Charlie.

My fiancé Cliff and I will be doing Zoom seders with our families in Cincinnati, Washington DC, Atlanta, Nashville, Miami, Boston, NY, Chicago and Israel. My guess is that it will be a little chaotic and very funny, especially if my hilarious sister Thea leads our seder (she's our in-house Marvelous Mrs. Maisel).

As a family, we're counting our blessings of freedom and health and trying to do what we can to support the heroic healthcare professionals and first responders who are putting their lives on the line. Some of our dearest friends are doctors and nurses working in ICUs around the country, and they are in our thoughts every day.

Our hearts break for those who have tragically lost loved ones to this pandemic. We'll be praying for those who are struggling with sickness, unemployment, decimated small businesses, food insecurity, and tremendous financial pressures.

This will be a Passover to remember.  It will be a time of reflection and profound gratitude. A time to acknowledge our powerlessness over all external circumstances. A time to take full responsibility for our thoughts and attitudes. A time to surrender to the total uncertainty. And most importantly, a time to expand our hearts and generosity to other humans.

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Our family is Ashkenazic, meaning that we trace our roots to Eastern Europe. Though our traditional charoset contains fresh apples and walnuts, we all prefer the Sephardic version, which is made with dried fruit and is more dense. Here's a recipe we love:

Della Heiman's Sephardic charoset

Recipe for Sephardic Charoset

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup walnuts

  • 1/4 cup pistachios

  • 12 Medjool dates, pitted

  • 1/2 cup dried figs, hard stems removed

  • 1/4 cup raisins

  • 1/4 cup dried apricots

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 5 tablespoons red wine, or more if necessary

Procedure

In a food processor, chop the nuts. Add the dates, figs, apricots, raisins, cinnamon, and 4 tablespoons of the wine. Pulse the mixture until it is finely chopped. Add another tablespoon of wine and pulse a few times just until the mixture is a thick, slightly chunky paste. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly, add more dates.

Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 4 days. Add a little wine or water to thin it, if you like.